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Jordan threatens to review diplomatic ties if Israel annexes West Bank

Jordanian PM accuses Netanyahu of taking advantage of world’s distraction amid coronavirus crisis to implement ‘unilateral moves on the ground’

Palestinian farmers pack corn at the Jordan Valley, West Bank, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Palestinian farmers pack corn at the Jordan Valley, West Bank, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

Trump suggests in-person G7 summit at Camp David in June

US President Donald Trump says he could host June’s G7 summit at a presidential retreat, instead of holding it as a virtual gathering.

“I am considering rescheduling the G-7, on the same or similar date, in Washington, DC, at the legendary Camp David,” he says on Twitter.

“The other members are also beginning their COMEBACK. It would be a great sign to all — normalization!”

G7 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — take turns organizing the annual summit.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office says he would attend if “health conditions allow,” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she would “wait and see what happens.”

–AFP

Police, officials said to decide to up security for judges in Netanyahu trial

Officials and police decide the judges who are presiding over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial should have increased security.

According to a Channel 13 report, the Shin Bet is assessing how to deal with the security challenges of having the sitting prime minister stand trial for the first time in Israel’s history.

There are no details provided on any specific threat.

The prime minister faces bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in two other cases.

The trial is set to begin Sunday. It had been originally scheduled for March 17 but was pushed off by two months after then-justice minister Amir Ohana declared a “state of emergency” in the court system in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Venezuela says Iranian tankers will get military escort

Venezuela says its navy and air force will escort Iranian tankers arriving with much needed fuel, after Tehran warned of “consequences” if the US stopped the ships from reaching their destination.

“We’re ready for whatever, whenever,” President Nicolas Maduro tells state-run media, thanking “all the support” from its Middle East ally in its confrontation with the United States.

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, but its capacity to refine crude into gasoline is limited.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, both major crude producers. Washington has also sanctioned individual Venezuelans and Iranians.

— AFP

4-year-old critically wounded, 3-year-old hurt in two East Jerusalem shootings

Police say they are investigating two shooting incidents in East Jerusalem, including one in the neighborhood of Issawiya in which a 4-year-old girl is critically injured by apparent stray gunfire.

In the second incident in the refugee camp of Shuafat, a masked gunman entered a business and opened fire on the owner and his son.

Channel 13 reports the second child is 3 years old, and he and his father are lightly to moderately wounded.

There is no indication the incidents are connected.

View of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya from Mount Scopus, December 15, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Minister has baby just days after birth of a new government

Minister for Social Equality Meirav Cohen announces she has given birth.

The minister, sworn in to her new position on Sunday, posts a tweet with a photo of her holding the new baby at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

CCTV shows moment gunman opens fire toward man, 3-year-old in East Jerusalem

CCTV footage obtained by the Kan public broadcaster shows the moment a masked gunman burst into a shop and opened fire toward a man and his son.

In the video, the assailant opens fire, leaves the store, and then returns to again shoot at the man whose body is shielding the small child.

Former Shin Bet head: Unilateral annexation could undermine peace with Jordan, West Bank security

The former head of the Shin Bet security service warns against unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank, saying it could destabilize the region.

“If the annexation happens, in the first stages I would only do the [settlement] blocs and would also transfer parts of Areas A and B to the Palestinians,” Yoram Cohen tells Army Radio, referring to two sections that make up 40 percent of the West Bank. Area B is under Israeli military control but Palestinian Authority civil control, and Area A is under full PA control.

“A unilateral move could undermine the security situation in the West Bank and peace with Jordan,” he says.

Under the coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, the new government can move forward with applying Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley as soon as July 1.

Cohen led the Shin Bet from 2011 to 2016.

Yoram Cohen, then-chief of the Shin Bet security agency, attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on November 18, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ex-IDF chief hints at entry into political life: ‘I want to make a difference again’

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot drops a hint he may enter politics, saying he “wants to make a difference again.”

“I want to make the country better,” he says in extracts from an interview with the Israel Hayom daily to be published in full on Friday.

Eisenkot adds that he understands the differences in approach between the military and politics after serving as military secretary to Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak. He has previously denied political ambitions.

“In the military, once you decide, everyone does what you have decided. In politics, once you make a decision, everyone works to thwart it,” he says.

Senior military officials are required to wait a three-year cooling-off period before they are allowed to run for office.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks during a conference in Netanya on March 18, 2019. (Flash90)

Eisenkot entered the top IDF position in February 2015, taking over from now-Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He served until January 2019.

Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi previously served as IDF chief of staff, as did Yesh Atid-Telem’s Moshe Ya’alon.

Health official defends lack of testing: ‘We tell people to get swabbed but they don’t go’

A senior official at the Health Ministry defends the decreased rates of testing for the coronavirus, saying that the public isn’t turning up to be swabbed.

“The Health Ministry isn’t testing because the people of Israel don’t want to be tested. We have [the daily capacity for] 15,000 tests at the moment. We send people and they are not going to take the test,” Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, tells the Kan public broadcaster.

According to figures released Wednesday evening, the ministry carried out just 3,594 tests for the coronavirus that day.

Bat Yam man indicted for murder of partner and throwing her body parts in trash

A man is indicted at the Tel Aviv District Court for stabbing his partner to death and then throwing her body parts in the trash earlier this month.

Igor Chepikov is also charged with obstructing an investigation and destroying evidence after he allegedly killed Tatiana Haikin, 50.

He had previously served time in prison for domestic assault.

Tatiana Haikin who was murdered May 3, allegedly by her partner (Courtesy)

More than a thousand women demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Monday evening against the way the government and authorities have been handling domestic violence against women.

Police and social service organizations have reported a major rise in domestic violence complaints since the start of the coronavirus crisis, which has been blamed for exacerbating tensions as people were confined together by lockdown measures.

50 kids quarantined after Tel Aviv kindergarten worker diagnosed with virus – report

Some fifty children at a kindergarten in north Tel Aviv are sent into quarantine after a staff member tests positive for the coronavirus, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the report, the children are sent home from the kindergarten complex on the city’s Yehuda Maccabi Street.

In addition, 27 residents and three staff members at the Beit Hanna hostel in Rehovot are isolated after a worker there was also diagnosed, Channel 13 reports.

Five people from the Navon school also in Rehovot have been diagnosed with the virus over the past week, as schools and kindergartens fully reopened across the country.

Recent weeks have seen a sharp drop-off in the number of new virus cases, with Israel lifting restrictions on movement.

Kids, staff at Bnei Brak special education kindergarten isolated after worker infected

Children and staff from a special education kindergarten in the Tel Aviv suburb are sent into quarantine after a teaching assistant is diagnosed with the coronavirus, Army Radio reports.

There are no details given on the number of people who have been isolated.

PM’s ally says AG is ‘alleged offender’; justice minister says red line is crossed

Three days ahead of the start of Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial, a key ally of the prime minister attacks Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, accusing him of alleged criminal behavior.

“Based on what we heard, there is no dispute that he is an alleged offender. We need to check what is happening here,” Likud minister David Amsalem tells Army Radio.

Amsalem also refers to Netanyahu’s trial due to start Sunday: “The coup d’etat has reached the gates of the court.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn responds to the comments saying: “I have full confidence in the court. Government ministers are allowed to express substantive criticism, but unrestrained attacks are crossing a red line.”

Amsalem appears to be referring to recordings of phone calls relating to the 2010 Harpaz affair that surfaced in February, shedding new light on Mandelblit’s uncomfortable position in the case. Mandelblit was cleared of wrongdoing.

Dozens of Israeli websites said to come under cyberattack

The National Cyber Directorate says it has received reports of dozens of Israeli websites coming under cyberattack.

The cybersecurity service says the situation is being dealt with, Hebrew media reports.

Videos and screenshots shared on social media show the phrase “Be ready for a big surprise” in Hebrew and English. The video appears to show explosions in Tel Aviv and a battered and bloodied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swimming away from a burning city.

There was no official indication on who is thought to be behind the attacks although the images did feature Iranian flags and symbols.

It is thought the hack was facilitated by a vulnerability in a plug-in on the WordPress platform, Haaretz reports.

The local authorities of Mitzpe Ramon and Ramat Hasharon are among those attacked in the hack, as is the Cofix chain of coffee shops and convenience stores, United Hatzalah emergency responders, and the personal website of Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, Ynet reports.

Israel’s security firms and agencies have been preparing for a potential Iranian or Iran-linked cyberattack in response to an attack blamed on the Jewish state that was said to have crippled computer systems at a strategic port in the south of the Islamic Republic.

The attack was apparently in response to an alleged Iranian attempt to hack into Israel’s water infrastructure system.

National Cyber Directorate: Don’t click on links to hacked websites

The National Cyber Directorate issues a warning that online surfers should not visit corrupted websites after a cyberattack targets dozens of Israeli pages.

The cybersecurity service says the situation is being dealt with.

Channel 12 reports that hundreds of websites are corrupted by the cyber assault, while the Haaretz daily says thousands of online pages are attacked.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Israeli sites hacked — reports

Hebrew media reports differ over the number of Israeli websites attacked in the cyber assault.

Channel 12 says the online pages corrupted number in the hundreds, while the Haaretz daily says thousands of websites were hacked.

There is no official figure given by authorities.

Rishon Lezion kindergarten assistant infected with virus; children quarantined

An assistant at a kindergarten in the central city of Rishon Lezion is diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The children at the “Dani Ha’Gibor” kindergarten are quarantined, Channel 12 news reports.

Earlier, dozens of children and staff at two daycares in Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak were sent into isolation after workers tested positive.

Zuckerberg: Facebook in electoral interference ‘arms race’ against Russia, Iran and China

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says he is “pretty confident” his company could help prevent attempts to influence the political outcome of the US presidential election later this year.

Zuckerberg tells the BBC in an interview that the social network is now better prepared to counter online misinformation campaigns but admitted Facebook was “behind” during the 2016 election which US President Donald Trump won.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks in New York, October 25, 2019. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

“Countries are going to continue to try and interfere and we are going to see issues like that but we have learnt a lot since 2016 and I feel pretty confident that we are going to be able to protect the integrity of the upcoming elections,” he says.

Zuckerberg describes preventing electoral interference as a “little bit of an arms race” against countries such as Russia, Iran and China.

“We don’t want other governments to try and interfere in elections, so regardless of how effective that is I view it as our job to work with everyone we can to stop that from happening,” he adds.

— AFP

Recorded global coronavirus cases surpass 5 million

The number of novel coronavirus cases declared worldwide breaks through five million, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.

At least 5,014,943 cases, including 328,368 fatalities, are recorded.

Europe has been the hardest hit with 1,954,519 cases and 169,880 deaths, while the United States has 1,551,853 cases and 93,439 deaths.

The statistics represent only a fraction of the total of cases, with many countries testing only the most serious infections and many deaths going unregistered.

— with AFP

Lebanon’s PM warns of major food crisis amid economic turmoil, pandemic

Lebanon’s prime minister warns of a major food crisis in the Mediterranean country which is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab also warns of eventual “starvation” in the Middle East that he says may spark a new migration flow to Europe.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab (L) arrives for the inaugural cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on January 22, 2020. (AFP)

He urges the United States and the European Union to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help the conflict-prone region.

Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October over widespread corruption subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, but sporadic protests continue.

Diab’s government is seeking a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund while grappling to deal with the financial crisis that saw the local currency crash, people’s savings devastated and prices and inflation soar in the past few weeks.

In a stark warning, Diab says many Lebanese may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.

— AP

National cyber agency: Attack is superficial, limited to single hosting company

The National Cyber Directorate says that the attack on Israeli websites is “superficial” and limited to a single hosting company used by a number of private entities, Hebrew media reports.

The agency says it is continuing to assist and assess the incident, as well as trying to trace the perpetrators, noting that it warned last week of the possibility of an Iranian cyberattack to mark Quds Day.

The directorate says state websites were not attacked in the cyber assault.

Iran has marked al-Quds Day since the start of its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Tehran says it is an occasion to express support for the Palestinians.

 

UK’s Johnson won’t face police probe over ties to woman he brought to Israel – report

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not face a police investigation over his relationship with a woman he was said to have shown inappropriate favoritism to amid an alleged affair while he was London mayor, Sky News reports.

The potential for a probe came after a report last year of potential conflicts of interest over his dealings with Jennifer Arcuri, described as a former model turned tech entrepreneur, who reportedly took part in three foreign trade missions alongside Johnson in a year — two of them to Tel Aviv — despite not being eligible for inclusion.

Borris Johnson (L) and Jennifer Arcuri at the InnoTech Summit in 2013 (Screencapture/YouTube)

In addition, Arcuri’s companies received two sponsorship grants from Johnson’s promotional agency while he was mayor and a third grant earlier this year worth £100,000 ($123,000) from a former ministerial colleague of his in the government’s Department for Digital, Culture and Sport, the Sunday Times reported.

“The pair crossed paths at Tory party conferences, London tech events and a fundraising ball,” the Times said. “They mingled in Tel Aviv, New York, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Arcuri’s spacious top-floor rented flat in Shoreditch High Street, east London. They were close friends.”

Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

— with Agencies

As kids quarantined from 3 kindergartens, Health Ministry doesn’t publish virus data

The Health Ministry has yet to publish figures showing new coronavirus infections, deaths, testing rates and other data.

The ministry consistently published numbers twice a day since mid-March, but in recent days has started to miss updates.

It remains unclear if the lack of update is due to a change in policy or an oversight.

The failure to publish updated figures comes as dozens of children are sent into quarantine after staff members at three kindergartens in Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Rishon Lezion test positive for the virus.

Man indicted for threatening Netanyahu

A man, 40, from the north of the country is charged with threatening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The man, whose name is withheld from publication, is to undergo psychiatric assessment, Channel 13 news reports.

He is said to have posted online threats against the prime minister.

The man is remanded in a psychiatric hospital under the terms of the indictment.

Iran says more than 10,000 health care workers infected with virus

The coronavirus has infected more than 10,000 health care workers in hard-hit Iran, news outlets report.

The report carried by semiofficial news agencies, including ISNA, cite Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabaei, who did not elaborate.

However, reports earlier in the week put the number of infected health care workers at only 800. Iran says more than 100 of those workers have died.

Iran on Thursday put the number of dead from the virus at 7,249, or 66 more than Wednesday. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says there were more than 129,000 confirmed cases of the virus, including 2,392 more than Wednesday.

Iran has the highest number of casualties from the disease in the region.

In this March 1, 2020, file photo, a medic treats a patient infected with coronavirus at a hospital in Tehran, Iran. (Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency via AP, File)

Over half of Israelis believe 2nd virus wave is just matter of time — poll

More than half of Israelis believe a second wave of infections in the coronavirus pandemic is only a matter of time, according to a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).

The poll finds 54.5 percent think there is a high chance of a second wave. However, generally Israelis are less afraid of it now; just 49% of Israeli Jews and 55.5% of Arab Israelis are worried about contracting the coronavirus, a significant drop from 76% and 70% respectively in March.

As infections slow and the government rolls back restrictions, 39% of respondents say the moves to restore the economy were made too fast, 30% think they were made at the appropriate pace and 25% think they were too slow.

Forty-four percent say they trust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s management of the crisis, a decrease from 54-57% in surveys up until mid-April on the same topic.

The survey was conducted by the IDI’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research on May 17-18, among 754 respondents contacted by phone and constituting a representative sample of Israel’s adult population. The margin of error was 3.7%.

As Israel sizzles, heatwave casualties continue

Israel continues to scorch under a week-long heatwave although there is a slight drop in temperatures.

An 84-year-old woman is hospitalized in serious condition after suffering heatstroke in her home in the central city of Petah Tikva, Hebrew media reports. Paramedics take her to Beilinson Hospital for treatment.

A man in his sixties is treated at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital for heatstroke after he collapses on Sderot Hayotser. He is said to be in moderate condition.

Temperatures are set to see a significant reduction on Friday, with rain forecast for some parts of the country on Sunday.

Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv as the beaches are officially opened, on May 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Cyprus lifts most coronavirus restrictions after 2 months

Cyprus is lifting most restrictions of a two-month stay-at-home order.

The decision allows for the reopening of primary schools, hair salons and outdoor cafes.

People will no longer need permission forms or electronic approval to move outside their home or heed a night curfew. Public parks and squares are now open, but groups of more than 10 are prohibited.

Beginning Saturday, sunbathers may go to the beaches on this east Mediterranean island, and the faithful can attend services at churches, mosques and other places of worship.

Libraries, museums and archaeological sites reopen June 1 when ports will also resume operations, although cruise ship passengers won’t be permitted to disembark.

AP

Growing number of US colleges plan fall opening, with dramatic changes

Growing numbers of US colleges are pledging to reopen this fall, with dramatic changes to campus life to keep the coronavirus at bay. Big lectures will be a thing of the past. Dorms will be nowhere near capacity. Students will face mandatory virus testing. And at some smaller schools, students may be barred from leaving campus.

Even as some universities abandon hope of in-person instruction next semester, citing concerns from public health officials, dozens are announcing plans to welcome students back in August. They acknowledge that an outbreak could force classes back online, but many of their leaders say the financial and political pressures to reopen are too large to ignore.

At West Virginia University, President E. Gordon Gee says students don’t want to wait for a vaccine, and the school can’t afford to.

“If it was simply based on science, we would keep everything shut down until we have a vaccine and until it’s working. But I don’t feel that that’s feasible, either economically or socially, and certainly not educationally,” Gee says. “We will open, but it will be different.”

Colleges planning to reopen include Purdue University, Texas A&M University, the University of Notre Dame and statewide systems in Arizona, Florida, New Hampshire and elsewhere. Some plan to make decisions this summer, including Princeton University, where officials say it’s too soon to make a call.

The California State University system, by contrast, has said its 23 campuses will stay mostly online this fall, citing predictions of a virus resurgence later this year. Others including the University of South Carolina, Rice and Creighton universities plan to bring students back but end the term early, before Thanksgiving, anticipating a second wave could hit later in the fall.

AP

Texas base put on lockdown after reports of shooter

A naval air station in Texas goes on lockdown after an active shooter is reported near one of the facility’s gates.

Naval Air Station-Corpus Christi says the shooter was “neutralized” and all gates remained closed. There are no immediate reports of what happened to the shooter or other injuries.

The station had a similar lockdown last December. In another incident at the base last year, a man pleaded guilty to destruction of US government property and possession of a stolen firearm for ramming his truck into a barricade at the Corpus Christi station.

AP

Zarif defends ‘final solution’ anti-Israel poster

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is defending an anti-Israel poster shared by the country’s supreme leader, which Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said advocates for the genocide of Jews in invoking the term “final solution.”

Zarif claims the slogan, “The final solution: Resistance until referendum” shows the Islamic Republic is seeking a referendum at the ballot box for the Palestinians, and accuses the West of being anti-democracy.

Iran funds terrorist groups sworn to Israel’s destruction, including Hezbollah and Hamas. It also hosts an annual Holocaust denial cartoon contest.

“Disgusting that those whose civilization found a ‘Final Solution’ in gas chambers attack those who seek a real solution at the ballot box, through a REFERENDUM. Why are US and West so afraid of democracy? Palestinians should not have to pay for your crimes, or for your guilt,” he tweets.

Palestinian official says CIA information-sharing halted

The Palestinian security services will stop sharing information with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in protest of Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank, a senior official says.

“It has been 48 hours that the American Intelligence Service have been notified that the agreement with them is no longer in force,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says.

“Security cooperation with the US no more. Security cooperation with Israel no more.”

The Palestinian government cut all ties with the Trump administration in 2017, accusing the US President of pro-Israel bias.

Certain non-political relations were maintained, however, including between the Palestinian security services and the CIA.

AFP

First Orthodox camps in US cancel summers

Two Orthodox overnight camps have canceled their 2020 summers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They appear to be the first two of that denomination to do so.

Camp Morasha in Pennsylvania, a Modern Orthodox camp, announced in an email Wednesday that it had come to the decision following “months of deliberation, alternative planning, reviewing all available policies from the CDC, ACA and the State of Pennsylvania, in addition to receiving guidance from medical experts and Rabbinic poskim,” or Jewish legal authorities.

Camp Moshava Ennismore, which is also Modern Orthodox, announced its 2020 closure on Wednesday after the government of Ontario, the Canadian province where it is located, announced that overnight camps would not be allowed to operate in 2020.

“The health and safety of our campers, staff, and families will always be our top priority and we fully understand why Ontario camps cannot run this summer,” the camp said in a message posted on its website. “This, of course, does not make it any easier to process.”

Over the past few weeks, dozens of non-Orthodox camps have announced that they will not be running in 2020. That includes nearly all Conservative and Reform overnight camps.

JTA

Gaza authorities say another 19 sick with virus; border crossing to remain shut through July

The Gaza health ministry announces 19 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number in the coastal enclave to 49.

All 19 of the patients had been recent arrivals in the Strip from Egypt and had been staying at quarantine facilities on the border when they were diagnosed.

The number of cases in Palestinian areas of the West Bank remains at 368, the PA health ministry says.

Hamas authorities also announce that Gaza’s pedestrian border crossings will be shut until the end of July.

The crossings into the coastal enclave have been largely closed since the start of the pandemic, but authorities there have periodically opened the borders for short periods of time.

Jacob Magid

Bnei Brak public schools to reopen on Sunday

Public schools in the central Israel city of Bnei Brak will resume on Sunday, the municipality says.

The city was the area hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

Preschools and kindergartens are set to reopen for an hour tomorrow to allow the children to adjust back, according to the Ynet site.

The municipality stresses that it’s leaving it up to parents whether to send their kids back to school.

Netanyahu, Greek PM join in online toast for 30th anniversary of ties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis toast 30 years of diplomatic ties between the countries in a virtual meeting.

Netanyahu tells his Greek counterpart he’d like to resume flights between the countries soon.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards wishes Israel a speedy demise

In a message released ahead of the annual Quds Day on Friday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards expresses hope Israel’s destruction is near and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will soon pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

“The IRGC said that hopefully, as the two leaders of the Islamic Revolution have promised, the end of the Zionist regime is close and soon the news of Ayatollah Khamenei congregation prayers in the Holy Quds and the region emerging without the Zionist regime and the US will be covered by all the media of the world,” reports the semi-official Fars news agency.

The paramilitary force vows to continue to fight Israel and says the Palestinians remain its top priority.

Rivlin honors Ethiopian Jews who died en route to Israel

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a state ceremony for Ethiopian Jews who died on their way to Israel.

“Not everyone came home, to Jerusalem,” Rivlin says. “Fathers and sons, sisters and brothers, grandchildren and grandparents, did not survive the journey. They could not survive the exhausting trek, the robbers along the way, the hunger, the diseases, the terrible conditions in the transit camps.

“Jerusalem holds their memory in its heart forever. Your love of Jerusalem is an eternal torch, whose top touches the heavens. A pillar of fire that shows all Israelis the way. May the memories of those who lost their lives on the way to Jerusalem and Israel, our brothers and sisters, be forever in our hearts.”

The annual memorial ceremony at the Mount Herzl military cemetery is attended by bereaved family members, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia, and Supreme Court Justice David Mintz.

Outbreak feared at 2 more Bnei Brak kindergartens, Rosh Ha’ayin nursing home

Staff members at two more kindergartens in the central city of Bnei Brak, and in a nursing home in the central town of Rosh Ha’ayin, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, raising concerns of virus outbreaks in those facilities, Channel 12 reports.

Dozens of children in several cities were sent into quarantine Thursday after diagnoses of coronavirus in their midst.

EU foreign affairs chief condemns Iran over threats to Israel

EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell condemns “in the strongest possible terms” Iran’s supreme leader for his call to destroy Israel.

“This is a threat to international peace and security. The security of Israel is of paramount importance and the EU will stand at its side,” he tweets.

Treasury knocks down plan to restrict butter imports

Finance Minister Israel Katz has rejected Agriculture Minister Alon Shuster’s proposal to impose tariffs on butter imports to Israel.

Shuster had suggested reintroducing custom duties on the butter shipments, to benefit local industry.

Katz says he’ll continue to back greater competition in Israel to keep prices down.

Israel suffered a months-long butter shortage earlier this year.

During the shortage, the government voted to lift the tariffs.

Trump says US pulling out of Open Skies surveillance treaty

The Trump administration notifies international partners that it is pulling out of a treaty that permits 30-plus nations to conduct unarmed, observation flights over each other’s territory — overflights set up decades ago to promote trust and avert conflict.

The administration says it wants out of the Open Skies Treaty because Russia is violating the pact, and imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from US or commercial satellites. Exiting the treaty, however, is expected to strain relations with Moscow and upset European allies and some members of Congress.

President Dwight Eisenhower first proposed that the United States and the former Soviet Union allow aerial reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory in July 1955. At first, Moscow rejected the idea, but president George H.W. Bush revived it in May 1989, and the treaty entered into force in January 2002. Currently, 34 nations have signed it; Kyrgyzstan has signed but not ratified it yet.

More than 1,500 flights have been conducted under the treaty, aimed at fostering transparency about military activity and helping monitor arms control and other agreements. Each nation in the treaty agrees to make all its territory available for surveillance flights, yet Russia has restricted flights over certain areas.

Last month, top Democrats on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees in both the House and the Senate wrote to Trump accusing the president of “ramming” a withdrawal from the treaty as the entire world grapples with COVID-19. They said it would undermine US alliances with European allies who rely on the treaty to keep Russia accountable for its military activities in the region.

AP

Ukrainian police suspend senior officer who asked for a city’s list of Jews

A senior police officer in Ukraine has been suspended for asking a Jewish community for a list of its members.

Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov announces the suspension in a letter he sends to the head of the Jewish community of Kolomyya, in the country’s west. The suspended officer, Myhaylo Bank, wrote the community’s leader in February to request a full list of members.

Bank “has been suspended temporarily as an official investigation into his performance of official duties continues,” reads the letter, which Avakov’s office sent to other officials earlier this week.

The letter states that the investigation into Bank’s actions began on May 13 and is connected to his letter to the Jewish communal leader.

Bank’s letter provoked an international uproar. Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, called Bank’s request a case of “naked anti-Semitism.”

JTA

Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen released from US prison

US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, is released from federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wearing a surgical mask and a baseball cap, Cohen arrives at his Manhattan apartment building at around 10:40 a.m. after his release from FCI Otisville in New York.

He removes boxes of legal documents from the trunk of a car. A uniformed doorman at the luxury residence, not far from Trump Tower, carries them into the lobby on a luggage cart.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax charges, campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress, doesn’t stop to speak with reporters gathered on the sidewalk.

Cohen, 53, is released on furlough as part of an attempt to slow the spread of the virus in federal prisons. He began serving his sentence last May and had been scheduled to remain in prison until November 2021.

Prison advocates and congressional leaders have been pressing the Justice Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates, arguing that the public health guidance to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from other people is nearly impossible behind bars.

AP

Health Ministry backs allowing indoor gatherings of up to 50 people

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is seeking to permit indoor gatherings of up to 50 people.

According to a statement from the ministry, Edelstein has instructed the director-general to approve the measure.

The gatherings can only be held if those present keep a distance and wear masks, it adds.

The Health Ministry is also seeking to reduce the space required between employees under which they may work without masks, from 1.5 meters to 1.2.

Edelstein says “now is the time to open,” but warns, “we cannot be complacent.”

Facebook unveils scam warnings for Messenger users

Facebook says that its Messenger app will be watching behind the scenes for scammers using the smartphone communication system.

Safety notices will pop up in Messenger text chats if activity taking place in the background is deemed suspicious by artificial intelligence software, according to director of privacy and safety product management Jay Sullivan.

He says the new safety feature “will help millions of people avoid potentially harmful interactions and possible scams without compromising their privacy.”

The feature began rolling out to the Messenger app tailored for Android-powered smartphones in March and will head to Messenger on iPhones next week, according to Facebook.

“Too often people interact with someone online they think they know or trust, when it’s really a scammer or imposter,” Sullivan says.

“These accounts can be hard to identify at first and the results can be costly.”

Artificial intelligence software scans for scammers based on account behavior, such as sending messages in bulk targeting demographics or geographies, according to Facebook.

AP

Health Ministry: Tel Aviv teacher not sick with virus, test a false positive

A Tel Aviv kindergarten teacher has been erroneously diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to the Health Ministry.

The teacher’s test was a false positive.

The kindergarten, which was shuttered over fears of an outbreak, is given the green light to resume.

Police: Jews will be able to visit Temple Mount when Waqf reopens site

The Israel Police say Jews will be allowed to visit the Temple Mount when its Jordanian custodians reopen the holy site to Muslim worshipers next week.

The police are responding to a request from attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir and Temple Mount activists.

The site, the holiest in Judaism and third most sacred in Islam, has been shuttered due to the pandemic.

Jews are usually allowed the visit the site but are banned from praying there.

Netanyahu-Gantz meeting ends

A meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ended.

“The meeting was held in a positive atmosphere and dealt with advancing various issues on the agenda for Israel’s citizens and with preparing for the cabinet meeting next week,” a statement by Likud and Blue and White says.

119 new immigrants arrive in Israel from Ethiopia

A plane carrying 119 new immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia lands at Ben Gurion Airport.

The immigrants are greeted by the new Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, who is the first female Ethiopian-born minister in Israel’s history, and Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog.

The arrivals come as Israel marks its annual memorial day for Ethiopian Jews who died en route to Israel.

Both masked due to the virus, Tamano-Shata and Herzog stand at the entrance of the plane, handing roses to the new Israelis.

IMF approves $396 million for Jordan to fight coronavirus

The International Monetary Fund approves $396 million for Jordan to fight the coronavirus pandemic, a disbursement equal to about a quarter of its projected need amid the global economic downturn.

The funds are the latest from the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument, which allows nations to circumvent the lengthy negotiations usually required to secure a full economic assistance program — time most countries do not have as they struggle to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

AFP

Gaza Health Ministry: Gaza virus cases rise to 55

Gaza’s health ministry announces six new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number in the Palestinian enclave to 55.

All six of the patients were recent arrivals from Egypt and had been staying at quarantine facilities on the border when they were diagnosed.

The number of cases in Palestinian areas of the West Bank remains at 368, the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry says.

Jacob Magid

Federal lawsuit: New Jersey township discriminating against Orthodox Jews

The US Justice Department files a discrimination lawsuit against a New Jersey township over zoning restrictions that allegedly target the Orthodox Jewish community.

The lawsuit accuses the Township of Jackson and its Planning Board of violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Fair Housing Act by passing zoning ordinances that restrict religious schools and bar religious boarding schools.

Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, calls it “anti-Semitic conduct.”

“Using zoning laws to target Orthodox Jewish individuals for intentional discrimination and exclude them from a community is illegal and utterly incompatible with this Nation’s values,” Dreiband says in a statement issued by the Justice Department. “Let me be clear. The Department of Justice will use the full force of its authority to stop such anti-Semitic conduct and prevent its recurrence.”

According to the complaint, two ordinances passed by the South Jersey township and its Planning Board expressly prohibit dormitories throughout Jackson, making it impossible for religious boarding schools such as Orthodox yeshivas to operate there. But the Planning Board has since approved, without requiring a variance, plans for two nonreligious projects with dorm-type housing.

The complaint further alleges that the township and Planning Board enacted the ordinances against a backdrop of extreme animus by some Jackson residents and township decision-makers toward the Orthodox community and a movement by residents to keep Orthodox Jews from settling in Jackson, according to the Justice Department.

Jackson, a Shore town with about 55,000 residents, borders Lakewood, a township of some 104,000 with a large ultra-Orthodox population.

JTA

18 new virus cases in past 24 hours; no additional deaths

The Health Ministry records another 18 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

It says there are 2,680 active cases in the country; another 13,724 have recovered.

Of the ill, 47 are in serious condition, 36 of whom are on ventilators. Another 30 are in moderate condition.

The virus death toll stays at 279, with no deaths reported in the past day.

Nearly 6,000 virus tests were conducted on Wednesday.

Restricted Jerusalem Day events held around Old City

Hundreds of young Israelis form a human chain around Jerusalem’s Old City to mark the capture of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Six Day War.

The annual festivities have been limited due to the pandemic.

Instead of a march through the Old City, 700 people are forming a human chain, with two meters between links, around many of the Old City gates.

In addition, a convoy of cars is driving around Jerusalem and circling the Old City. The events will culminate in a ceremony at the Western Wall attended by 450 people who registered in advance.

Young Jewish men celebrate Jerusalem day around the Old City walls of Jerusalem, May 21, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Young Jewish men celebrate Jerusalem day around the Old City walls of Jerusalem, May 21, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Young Jewish men celebrate Jerusalem day around the Old City walls of Jerusalem, May 21, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Researchers: 35,000 US lives could’ve been saved with earlier social distancing

More than 35,000 lives would have been saved in the US if social distancing measures had begun just a week earlier than they actually did in mid-March, according to a new estimate by researchers at Columbia University.

They say simulations based on several models show that 61 percent of the US cases of infection as of May 3 — more than 700,000 — and 55 percent of the more than 65,000 recorded deaths could have been averted if social distancing and other safety measures had been in place a week earlier.

These researchers say the simulations illustrate the danger of easing lockdown measures too early, as many experts have noted. All 50 US states have begun to reopen, to one extent or another and with encouragement from US President Donald Trump, to try to resurrect economies devastated by business closures and layoffs in the pandemic.

“Efforts to further raise public awareness of the ongoing high transmissibility and explosive growth potential of COVID-19 are still needed at this critical time,” the researchers write.

“Our results also indicate that without sufficient broader testing and contact tracing capacity, the long lag between infection acquisition and case confirmation masks the rebound and exponential growth of COVID-19 until it is well underway,” they say.

The United States is the country hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 1.5 million cases of infection and more than 93,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

AFP

Palestinian PM meets with security forces on halting coordination with Israel

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh meets with the heads of Palestinian security to discuss ending coordination with Israel, the official Wafa news agency reports.

“Israel’s annexation of any parts of the West Bank constitutes an existential threat to the Palestinian national project and an end to the two-state solution,” Shtayyeh says. “Israel has breached international law and violated all the agreements signed with us, whether the political, security, economic, and legal agreements. From now on, we will no longer abide by these agreements.”

Education Ministry on teacher who made girl sit in underwear: It’s ‘complicated’

The Education Ministry offers tepid criticism of a Petah Tikva teacher who forced a seven-year-old girl to sit through class in her underwear after showing up to school in a dress in violation of the uniform code.

The girl was given a school t-shirt, but no bottom, and was ordered by the teacher to remove her dress rather than put it on top.

“There was room to show flexibility due to her young age,” the ministry says.

“This is a complicated, but unfortunate and unnecessary, incident that caused much harm to the girl, her family, the teacher and the school,” it says.

The teacher took to Channel 12 on Wednesday to blame the girl’s mother for the incident, claiming she had said the girl was wearing pants under the dress and insisting she hadn’t noticed the girl was left in her underwear.

The girl’s mother has filed a police complaint.

Ahead of indictment, ultra-Orthodox rabbis disavow sex offender Berland

A panel of top ultra-Orthodox rabbinical judges disavow Eliezer Berland, the shadowy leader of the Bratslav Shuvu Bonim sect, a convicted sex offender, who is set to go on trial for fraud and money laundering.

After investigating the claims against Berland, primarily on his alleged sex offenses, and calling witnesses, the rabbinical judges say they have established that he committed “most serious” crimes and say “those who guard their souls will distance themselves from him and are required to do so.”

The ruling also lashes his followers for asserting that as a “holy man,” Berland may act as he wishes, saying “this blasphemy must be uprooted from within us.”

The ruling — which comes after years of efforts by former Berland disciples to discredit him within the ultra-Orthodox community — is signed by leaders of the hard-line Eda Haredit, the Karlitz Hasidic sect, and others.  Many within the ultra-Orthodox community have turned a blind eye to Berland until now, with prominent Bratslav rabbis, but few others, publicly declaring him a persona non grata.

Hundreds pack Tel Aviv beach concert

Hundreds of people are attending a concert at a Tel Aviv beach, seemingly in violation of social distancing rules.

The concert is billed as an event in solidarity with Israel’s music industry, as it takes stock of its losses due to the virus.

It appears to be the first mass concert since the outbreak.

https://twitter.com/ItayBlumental/status/1263526202515632129/photo/1

US Senate approves Trump political ally as intelligence czar

The US Senate confirms John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence, placing a close political ally of President Donald Trump in charge of a massive US spy community that Trump brands a troublesome “deep state.”

The Senate vote 49-44 on sharply partisan lines to approve Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman from Texas, 10 months after he first withdrew from consideration for the job amid broad doubts about his qualifications.

He will lead the country’s 17 federal intelligence bodies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency, and be responsible for coordinating them with the White House.

In July, Trump forced out Dan Coats as director of national intelligence after longstanding tensions between the two, and then struggled to find a suitable replacement.

AFP

Report: PA forces retreat to West Bank’s Area A as security coordination cut

Palestinian security forces have begun withdrawing from the West Bank’s Areas B and C to Area A, which is under full PA control, the Haaretz daily reports, citing Palestinian sources.

The sources say Israel has been updated about the development, which comes as the PA threatens to end all coordination with Israel over ramped up talk of annexation.

The report says the retreat largely affects the Palestinian civilian populations in Areas B and C.

The report is not immediately confirmed by Israel.

The ramifications of such a withdrawal are not immediately clear.

Crowd at Tel Aviv concert swells to 5,000

Some 5,000 people are now attending the Tel Aviv beachside concert in solidarity with the music industry, Channel 12 reports.

The event is held with police approval, according to the network.

This appears to be the largest gathering nationwide since the outbreak of the virus.

Report: Yitzhar settler youth attack Palestinians with stones, sticks

Dozens of settler youth from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar are attacking Palestinians with stones and sticks near the village of Huwara, according to Channel 12, and Border Police heading to the area to carry out arrests.

Police were tipped off that the rioters were headed toward the Palestinian village but failed to immediately respond, sources tell the network.

Israeli officials: Abbas has ended security coordination

Israeli officials confirm Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has followed through on his threats and halted all security coordination with Israel.

The ramifications of the decision are far-reaching, with Israeli and Palestinian forces setting up for a military clash in the West Bank.

Abbas, in a speech earlier this week, said all agreements with the US and Israel were off due to the talk of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.

with Avi Issacharoff

Right-wing group: Palestinians attacked Israeli car, sparking West Bank riots

The settler Honenu group claims the clashes around the village of Huwara erupted when Palestinian rioters attacked an Israeli car with stones and metal bars, disputing a TV report account of the violence in the area.

The driver emerged unharmed, though damage was caused to his car, the legal aid group says in a statement.

Palestinian rioters then clashed with Israeli security forces in the area, who were working to disperse the crowds, it says.

The statement makes no mention of settler involvement. Channel 12 said police were headed to the scene to disperse settler rock attacks on Palestinians.

The IDF does not immediately comment on the incident.

Huwara was the scene of an attempted shooting at an Israeli car Wednesday, which the army is investigating as a terrorist attack.

Italy’s virus death toll could be 19,000 higher than recorded — study

Italy’s death toll from the novel coronavirus in March and April could be nearly 19,000 higher than the official figure of 32,000, the national social security agency says.

The Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale (INPS), the largest social security and welfare institute in Italy, says in a new study that the official death figures were not “reliable.”

Its study shows that 156,42 total deaths were recorded in Italy in March and April, which is 46,909 higher than the average number of fatalities in those months recorded between 2015 and 2019.

But only 27,938 deaths linked to coronavirus were reported during that period by the Civil Protection Agency, whose toll forms the basis of national statistics, the INPS says.

That meant there were 18,971 more deaths than normal during this period, with the vast majority of 18,412 recorded in the coronavirus-ravaged north of the country.

“Given the fact that the number of deaths is quite stable in these times, we can — with necessary caution — attribute a large portion of these deaths during these past two months to the epidemic,” the INPS says.

AFP

Smotrich: MKs should openly back goal of making Israel as in King David’s era

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, a former cabinet minister, says right-wing lawmakers should openly proclaim their aspiration to transform the State of Israel to as it was in the days of the biblical King David.

“We must not fear presenting our vision of transforming the State of Israel and its progression to become the cradle of [King] David,” he says at the Merkaz Harav yeshiva, during a Jerusalem Day event, marking 53 years since the capture of the Old City during the Six Day War.

“That’s our national aspiration,” he adds, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“What we need around the cabinet table is not religious ministers but ministers who carry this vision and seek to revive it,” he says. “This must be our work plan.”

Smotrich has come under fire in the past for similar remarks.

Jordan says it will review ties if Israel annexes West Bank

Jordan threatens to review its relationship with Israel if the Jewish state goes ahead with controversial plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“We will not accept unilateral Israeli moves to annex Palestinian lands and we would be forced to review all aspects of our relations with Israel,” Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz tells the official Petra news agency.

The deal underlying Israel’s new unity government, sworn in on Sunday, allows it from July 1 to initiate moves to implement US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The plan, rejected by the Palestinians, gives the green light from Washington for Israel to annex Jewish settlements and other territory in the West Bank — including the valley running along the border with Jordan.

Razzaz accuses Israel of taking advantage of the world being “distracted” by the coronavirus crisis to implement “unilateral moves on the ground.”

His comments came days after Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned that if Israel “really annexes the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”

AFP

Health Ministry warns bathers to avoid northern rivers over dangerous pollution

The Health Ministry warns Israelis not to bathe in several northern streams over dangerous pollution levels.

The rivers are: Zaki, Elal, Jilaboun, parts of the Jordan River (from the Ma’ayan Baruch bridge southward), Majersa, and Meshushim pools.

It says tests conducted on May 18 and 19 showed high levels of contamination in the waters.

Swimmers who enter these rivers do so at their own risk, the ministry warns, saying the directive is temporary.

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Health official defends lack of testing: ‘We tell people to get swabbed but they don’t go’

A senior official at the Health Ministry defends the decreased rates of testing for the coronavirus, saying that the public isn’t turning up to be swabbed.

“The Health Ministry isn’t testing because the people of Israel don’t want to be tested. We have [the daily capacity for] 15,000 tests at the moment. We send people and they are not going to take the test,” Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, tells the Kan public broadcaster.

According to figures released Wednesday evening, the ministry carried out just 3,594 tests for the coronavirus that day.